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making the most of paid media today: an interview with tom walkden

As the paid media landscape continues to evolve so too do the services, channels and opportunities available to brands. With a specialism in audience stacking and a talent for pulling paid channel together to create a well-oiled strategy, we spoke to Head of Biddable Media, Tom Walkden to hear more about the opportunities available to brands today.

Keeping at the forefront of industry advancements and familiar with every tried and tested tactic you could imagine, Tom is a paid media mastermind holding many years of experience working with clients across all sectors. Here’s what he had to say…

how has the paid media landscape changed and what opportunities does that create for brands?

The landscape has evolved significantly and even more so since the pandemic started. There's much more online opportunity for brands now than there was before, simply because so many people are stuck at home. They're not commuting for business, they’re not travelling and so a lot of the traditional ways of being able to reach people has really, really changed because suddenly you've got less cars on the road.

Brands who invested loads of money on billboard advertising are not getting as many eyes seeing their billboards. Brands who were historically investing money into things like sponsorships of stadiums and arenas are suddenly losing out because there are no events. All these types of advertising relied on footfall and people commuting. It is no longer a viable option. Instead, those people are online more than they ever have been before.

For this reason, it absolutely makes sense that the whole digital landscape has evolved and has been pushed to evolve quicker because of the pandemic for one. But even before that, things were starting to change. There was a real shift to mobile, it started to overtake desktop and suddenly it became a lot more important for brands to have a separate mobile strategy. They had to really evolve their strategies to reach people.

have these changes affected brand’s goals?

From my perspective, the goals are still the same. The users or customers are still there. They're just consuming content in a different way. So, the challenge brands have got at the moment is trying to understand how best to reach the same people who are in a different place than they were before.

But what's also interesting is that there's, again, stats to show that people buy so much more online now than they ever have before. Last year alone, eCommerce sales accounted for over a quarter of all retail sales and that is only set to increase with the impact of the pandemic likely to be felt long into the future. Suddenly a lot of these channels whereby traditionally people use them for branding and awareness kind of strategies, they're now converting really well and it's becoming cost-effective to put media spend behind these channels to gain direct acquisition from them.

Suddenly it's not about, “my demographic is 24- to 35-year-old males who are visiting shopping centres or going to sports events”. Instead, it’s changed to, “my demographic is still the same but now they're not able to visit these places that they normally could, but they are watching a lot of sports content on YouTube or Sky Sports.”

So, how can brands still reach those same people? Through the channels they are consuming. For example, there’s Sky AdSmart. We can use AdSmart to tell our client’s story to those people who are consuming content on Sky Sports. We can use video capabilities to reach people who are consuming sport-related content on YouTube and serve videos using InStream technology before they watch the content. And social comes into the mix even more so as an opportunity to target your audiences while they spend longer than ever before on social networks.

there's a lot of choice out there and that can be really intimidating to marketing teams. what advice would you give them on getting started?

Being open-minded is really key. Put what you know to one side and just take that initial leap.

I think often when you're in the industry, you can forget that to someone who isn't, the thought of setting up a Facebook campaign is like: “how do I do that?”, “what do I do?”, “where do I start?”, “what kind of creatives do I need?”, “what type of people should I target?”.

For me, this can be answered by considering where your customers are going to be. The different channels make this easier than ever because they already have their preprepared audience groups. So, if you know that your customers are really into sports and fitness and consume a lot of related content, then suddenly you can start looking at these other channels and seeing if there's an audience available which is a good fit and take it from there.

What's also really interesting is that as you look at the demographics of your customers, you start to understand who is using what type of media. Let’s say you have a more traditional brand like a family law solicitor. Historically, you may never have done social because you thought the people who I want to target aren't using Facebook and Instagram. But you may be shocked to find that the demographic does actually use Facebook and Instagram and we can target those types of people and they will engage.

so how do social channels fit into paid media today?

A lot of people still think social is for the younger generations. But actually, the growth has been in the older demographics. If your customers are more traditional, there is a strong chance they're using Facebook and Instagram, so we need to be able to get in front of those people.

The younger generations are the early adopters, they start to use the new platforms first then, it flows to the older generations as it becomes more and more popular. Once it gets to a certain level what you then find is that the early adopters, the younger generation, move onto something different and it becomes a cycle of what's the next best thing? If your customers are younger, they're early adopters, so look for those early adoption channels, like TikTok.

TikTok is an interesting one. Do I recommend TikTok for every single advertiser? No, not at all. Because if you're a solicitor or something along those lines, TikTok isn't necessarily where your audience is going to be, yet. But if you’re a company with a younger audience and you have a nice creative, can make a good video, or even if you just want to be funny and sell through humour, TikTok is a great place to do that. Six months ago, TikTok was aimed very much at the younger demographic. Now six months later, you’re already starting to get an older demographic using it and that's only going to continue.

It's really important for brands to have a paid strategy that encompasses those additional channels because they will reap the benefits of it further down the line. There's no reason as to why you need to start on a specific channel though. If you've got a limited marketing budget that you want to spend on a particular project, use your audiences, your customer base, the data that you already have to understand who your customers are and then start testing on particular channels.

so, it sounds like the starting point should be the audience rather than the channels?

Across the different paid channels, whether that be traditional Google search ads, display campaigns, video campaigns, Google Discovery ad campaigns or social channels such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn or Snapchat - the big connector between all of them is the audience. It's the type of people that you want to talk to.

A lot of our paid media strategies are changing to be more audience rather than channel focused. We’re an audience first agency and what that really means is that we're almost channel agnostic because we want to reach the person - that potential customer. Rather than saying, “OK, these are the keywords we're going to target on PPC, these are the audiences that we're going to target on social” and not having a connection between the two, it's the audiences that creates the connection.

any departing words to share?

I think that, from a strategic perspective, there are three elements which you need to look at - the first one, of course, being audience. Who is my audience? Who do I want to speak to?

The second one is technology, so understanding the different types of bidding and methods that are available.

And the third one is, of course, the creative. Think about the story that you're telling. I've seen campaigns fail where you've got the best audiences, you've got the best kind of bidding methodology alongside that, but a poor creative. The creative is all that the user sees. The way I think of it is, the audience tells me who I want to target, the bidding methodology does the heavy lifting in terms of optimising and the creative is what the user actually sees.

want to know more?

If you’re interested in knowing more about the world of paid media and what ROI it could drive for your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Tom and our team of paid media specialists.

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